Health leaders are calling for action to address the “national emergency” in mental health services that is leading to A&E waiting times of up to 80 hours for some patients.
NHS leaders are concerned that the “continued lack of resourcing” in the mental health sector has left services overburdened and at a breaking point ahead of the traditionally busy winter period.
The issue surrounds the dearth of inpatient mental health hospital beds which is causing patients to present to A&Es and become “stranded” as they wait to be directed to be more appropriate settings.
Data from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine shows that, compared to everyone else, mental health patients are over twice as likely to experience waits of 12 hours or more in A&E. This was the case for nearly one in five during June 2023.
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, explained: “Health leaders are now calling on the government to make urgent and increased targeted investment in community mental health teams, temporary step-up beds and specialist staff ahead of the very pressured winter months.”
“The reality is that many of the solutions to this problem lie outside of the NHS, not least with the need for more supported housing and social care support.”
The call, which comes on the eve of world mental health day, comprises leaders reporting that the NHS is increasingly being left as a last resort to solve the crisis for patients and, because it is not the correct place for many, their mental health is deteriorating.
One acute leader on the South coast told the NHS Confederation: “We often reach a point where the whole system agrees that the acute hospital is not the right place for the patient, but finding a better place is hugely challenging.
“The impact this has on the patient themselves, the staff caring for them and the other patients in the ward cannot be underestimated.”
Chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s mental health network, Sean Duggan, said: “Leaders need to see mental health re-prioritised, with investment and action in the short, medium and longer term.
“A good place to start would be with the implementation of the clinically led review of standards for mental health, which includes A&E related urgent and emergency care mental health targets as well.”
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